European destinations see ‘notable’ shift towards shoulder seasons

Tourists holidaying in Europe are increasingly opting for trips during the shoulder seasons rather than the peak summer period of July and August, new research shows.

The countries with the biggest shift away from peak summer months include Mediterranean hotspots such as Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Italy.

However, even more northerly countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands have seen a shift away from peak summer months, according to the Travel Trends report by Mastercard Economics Institute.

“This suggests that it’s more than just hotter summers driving this change. Two major demographic shifts are likely also at play: more retirees (free from work obligations) and more households without children (free from school calendars),” said the report.

The report draws upon an analysis of aggregated and anonymised transaction data, including Mastercard SpendingPulse, and third-party data sources.

It said the share of overnight stays in the European Union during shoulder season (May-June and September-October) has increased by 1.8 percentage points over the last decade.

“This shift makes continued growth in European travel possible as peak summer hits capacity constraints,” noted the report.

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Natalia Lechmanova, chief economist for Europe at Mastercard Economics Institute, commented: “Our observations reveal a notable shift towards ‘shoulder’ seasons, as European travellers opt for milder months of May-June and September-October, steering away from the crowded peak summer period.

“Moreover, Europe’s experience economy is set to spring forward, as there’s a clear inclination among European tourists to prioritise immersive experiences, and choosing destinations that provide both value and authenticity.”

Spending on experiences totalled 12% of tourism sales, according to SpendingPulse Destinations which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment – the highest point in at least five years.

UK travellers tend to spend one of every six dollars on experiences and nightlife, compared to the global average, which is closer to one in every 10 dollars.

The report notes how consumer demand for travel has remained strong despite inflation.

The number of overnight stays in Europe totalled 2.91 billion in 2023, compared to 2.88 billion in 2019.

More than half of the 20 priciest summer destinations in Europe are in Italy, while the “most affordable” are capital cities such as Bucharest, Warsaw, Budapest and Prague plus Spanish beach resorts.

Picture of Croatia by givaga/

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